Friday, September 5, 2008

Fridays with Craig Keener ... Part Four

This is the fourth installment of an eight-part interview with Craig Keener, Professor of New Testament at Palmer Theological Seminary.

Craig and his wife, Medine (pictured on the left), both have doctorates. Their marriage story can be read here.

Craig is co-editing, with Michael Bird, the New Covenant Commentary Series (Wipf & Stock) that is scheduled for publication from 2009 to 2014. He is writing the commentary on Romans for that series. Gordon Fee is contributing the volume on The Revelation.

An 88-page manual that Craig has written on biblical interpretation is made available for free at the Pneuma Foundation website. It can be downloaded here (allow a few seconds for downloading).

JR: You have also written more slender commentaries. Given your proclivity to thoroughness, is that type of writing somewhat frustrating for you?

KEENER: The smaller Matthew commentary I wrote was frustrating for me because I had to leave so much out --- that was why I wrote the bigger one for Eerdmans. (Because it started that way, it did keep it from being as big as it might have been otherwise.) I think the bigger one for Eerdmans uses over 10,000 references from ancient sources besides the Bible, and the John commentary uses about 20,000 (a bit more or less, depending on whether one counts the Apocrypha as extrabiblical --- smile). The Revelation commentary was a bigger frustration--I wanted to put in enough that I would not have to write another scholarly commentary later. Some material was cut in the notes, and it tempted me to write a scholarly one later (though I think it has enough background material to satisfy most readers, and I can probably live with it).

But I also am old enough now to realize that I cannot do everything I once dreamed of doing. I have so much material that I wanted to write on the entire New Testament --- and be done by 40 (though I knew that ideal wasn't really realistic, I never thought I'd have covered so little of the NT by age 48). I didn't realize that even if one is sitting on mounds of information, it still takes time to write a good commentary, and then one has to proofread, plus check the editor's proofreading, plus do indexing. The John commentary took about 3-4 months of 60-hour weeks just for indexing, and sleep was very difficult once I started dreaming about indexing at night!

After all that, shorter commentaries become somewhat more appealing, and I will probably do some more of them in the future. For awhile now my friend Ben Witherington has been suggesting I move in that direction, and it's no coincidence that I wrote my most concise commentary (on 1-2 Corinthians) for his series. I had to choose judiciously among my information, using maybe one-tenth to one-seventh of my sources. What I discovered, though, was that if I didn't try to do everything, I could write a commentary informed by ancient sources in a few months. I hoped to do a scholarly commentary on 1 Corinthians someday, so I didn't feel like my readers were missing out too much.
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Encouraged that I might realistically finish publishing my notes on the NT and be able to retire and go back to some other form of ministry, I calculated how long it would take me to finish the NT if I did short volumes. It still looked like it would take me till I was 70 at that rate, so I have narrowed my focus regarding which books I'll write commentaries on. The big thing is that life is too short to duplicate someone else's effort (if I can't offer something significant that isn't already offered, I'll just recommend what is already offered). So whether a commentary is short or long, I want to offer some fresh material that readers wouldn't likely get on their own. Even in the short 1-2 Corinthians commentary, I was able to illumine a lot of turns of phrase in Paul's letters from other ancient letters and various other sources.
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There is so much to do and my heart burns for God's Word. I am also aware that many brothers and sisters would have loved to do what I am doing, but the doors were not open to them. For many years as I went through college, seminary and doctoral work I did not know where the money would come from; God supplied my needs. He did the miracles I needed at all the decisive moments, or I would not have the opportunity to do what I am doing now. Because I know that God blessed me to do what I love so much --- handling His Word --- I feel keenly the responsibility to do my best. I try to be diligent in providing as much of this work as I can to the rest of the body of Christ. That is the main reason God gives us gifts in the body of Christ --- to use us as conduits of His blessing to others.
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I know that many people pray for their pastors and for prominent ministers of the Word. I hope people will not forget to pray for us scholars, too. We need God's leading and God's blessing.
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NEXT FRIDAY'S QUESTION: In your book, Gift & Giver (Baker Academic), you mention that you have been used in prophecy and prayer for the healing of others. How do your cessationist peers in NT scholarship react to such unbashed charismatic beliefs and practices?

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